Adwa Victory, Black History Month and the Role of Ethiopians

February concludes the celebration of Black History Month. We are especially reminded of all the struggles African- Americans went through in February, and stories and facts emerge on media about African-Americans who contributed positive things in different areas. Some people argue that the celebration of Black History Month should end because history should not be limited to one specific month; others say it is not necessary because we now supposedly live in a post-racial society. For Ethiopians, the end of February also brings another historical moment, the Victory of Adwa. On March 1, 1896, Ethiopians defeated the army of Italy, under the leadership of King Menelik II. The victory was particularly important because it ensured that Ethiopia remained free from colonization from European powers, a source of pride not only to Ethiopians, but other Africans and African Americans.

African Americans have regarded Ethiopia as a source of inspiration for a long time, and the relationship between Africa Americans and Ethiopia goes back to the early 1900s. Professor Abiy Ford, a prominent scholar and teacher at Addis Ababa University, stated that “Ethiopia was synonymous with Africa for many African Americans. When you hear Ethiopia, you thought of Africa.” Professor Ford himself is the result of the Back-to-Africa movement. Just as the name suggests, the movement encouraged African Americans to go to their ancestral home  and settle there. It was created in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey. At a time when African Americans were struggling with questions of identity, Garvey’s ideas provided African Americans with a source of purpose and motivation. Later on, Garvey also served to inspire the Civil Rights Movement, Nation of Islam, and  Rastafarianism movements. It was during the height of this movement in the 1930s that a group of African Americans found themselves in Ethiopia, including Rabbi Arnold Ford and his future wife Mignon Innes Ford. Professor Abiy Ford was born in Ethiopia in 1935, where he remains to his day. When Italy invaded Ethiopia again in 1935, the family chose to stay in Ethiopia with the new-born baby and face the Italians, instead of fleeing with those who had a chance to leave. After a struggle that lasted six years, Ethiopia successfully ousted Italy once again in 1941. Mignon Ford also built the first boarding school in Ethiopia, Princess Zenebework School.

During my interactions with African Americans in the past few years, I have found that a lot of the older generation is aware of the history of Adwa, Marcus Garvey, and many other historical facts. Unfortunately, I can not say the same for the younger generation. I believe that is because they did not have the chance to grow up being as influenced with black movements as their parents were. A friend once told me, “If you are aware, you are responsible to share that knowledge. We are your long-lost cousins, and we need guidance.”